Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop Them All Paperback – Aug 1 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Economic growth is as American as apple pie and as popular as pizza. It has also, according to conservation biologist Czech, reached its limits and had led to "economic bloat," doing irreversible harm to the environment and literally destroying the future for the next generations. The main culprits here are mainstream, "neoclassical" economists (and also the political and economic elite supporting them) who through arcane theorization insist there are no limits to growth. Czech does a marvelous job of skewering the assumptions behind this notion and of introducing and synthesizing the perspectives of the opposing field, "environmental economics," which offers in the place of unbridled growth a "steady state" economy of low production and consumption and stable population. Moving through sometimes difficult ideas like "substitutability," "trophic levels" and "carrying capacity," Czech is always clear but never condescending, serious but not without humor. Agree with him or not, he is eminently clear. Yet it all falls apart when he discusses what might be done. Given the severity of the ecological crisis Czech finds us in, his recommendation that public opinion should shame conspicuous consumers among the rich into changing their ways is both vague and tepid. Missing are analyses of public policy options and considerations of political strategies that are as focused and nuanced as his critiques. Too bad, for when he's on his gameAin the first part of the bookAhe's as good at popularizing economics as Carl Sagan was science. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Brian has uncovered and clarified issues which have probably been rolling around in the back of many of our minds, for example the link between Darwinism, Maslow's heirarchy, and sexuality. (The real spirit of how things work is deeply embedded in our passions, sexuality, etc, and we must uncover these things to get to the root of all critical life issues). He also proposed a viewpoint of the role of the wealthy in our society, how their behavior impacts our economny and ecology, and how we all are capable of the same behavior if we had a few more dollars in our pocket, so perhaps a little better understanding of each other across "classes" is in order.
Brian only loosely alluded to the role of addiction in the behavior of the wealthy (e.g. if you have a hundred million dollars, why do you need more, what are you trying to prove, and aren't you in a position to exercize the most important human / spirtual values?). Perhaps a closer look at the role of addiction and prevalance of addictive behaviors and how they contribute to "success" and sustain destructive behaviors and ego based delusions at the expense of a more spirtual well roundedness would be in order.
Brian makes an excellent point about how a real solution requires a change in the mindset of the populace (very Jeffersonian) to be more aware and more involved in solving these problems, however he falls short with solid solutions. But then again, maybe there are no simple solutions. This book is about awareness, and it does a great job at it.
The underlying theme of the book is that neoclassical economists support a theory that the economy can sustain infinite growth, while the ecological economists claim that at some point, the growth will inevitably slow and then stop (more likely crash) because it is impossible in practicality to sustain growth forever. The book starts off with some interesting points about economic growth and sustainability in Part I, and then goes off the deep end in Part II as the author shares his proposed plan for achieving a 'steady-state economy.'
The plan in a nutshell: everyone should live very modestly, regardless of their income level, and whenever they notice someone else spending more money than they feel is necessary, they should immediately judge them and try to shame them into changing their ways. The goal is for society to become repulsed by conspicuous consumption to the extent that those in the financial top 1% of society are pressured to reform themselves and give their extra money away to those in need.
Although Part I is good enough to justify the purchase price, I would recommend skipping Part II in its entirety.
I'm too lazy or rushed to try to provide a summary that will do justice to his proposal here. Suffice it to say that I think what he offers is workable and appropriate for our society. It is a way that can significantly help us to get there (to sustainability) from here, with the best of our system of government and cultural values intact. Let there be no mistaking it - Czech prescribes a nonviolent revolution! While I don't think his proposal is the last word on the matter or necessarily the main approach sustainability advocates should use, I do think it has influenced me significantly and in good ways that will foster effective action. Isn't that what you would want from a book like this?
Having said that, I think Czech's approach would be well supplemented by an emphasis on the creative possibilities of sustainability. Other sustainability voices (e.g., Hawken, Lovins, McDonough, Braungart) seem to emphasize the building, restoring, redesigning, and creating. Czech emphasizes restraint. Given our fix, both are needed. And greater attention to virtue, as David Orr has argued, would help all around.
Finally, I'll mention that ecological economics, which Czech espouses throughout the book, seems to be a real up-and-comer. I've just learned of a development called post-autistic economics, which started in France and is akin to ecological economics. Something is afoot here! We could be in for a paradigm shift, and this book could be instrumental in shaping and promoting it.
Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train is divided into two parts. The first part is entitled "The Runaway Train" and it details the problems with economic growth and neo-classical economics and gives an overview of ecological economics. The second part is entitled "Stopping the Train" and it details Czech's model for a "Steady State Revolution" which would transform the growth economy to a steady state economy.
Czech does an exceptional job of explaining the problems of neo-classical economics and its obsession with growth. He cleverly redefines economic growth as "economic bloating" and he avoids bogging the reader down with technical terms. This makes the book accessible and interesting to readers of all backgrounds.
He argues that there is need for a Copernican revolution in the world view of neo-classical economists. "Only when we have a more Copernican economics will economists live in a world in which economic growth is limited, where the rest of us common folk are already stuck," Czech writes.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I was drawn to this book after it was suggested as an alternative here at Amazon to a so-called "perpetual growth" tome (a book, by the way, that actually points to no... Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2003
Shoveling Fuel For A Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, And A Plant To Stop Them All by Brian Czech (Adjunct Professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State... Read morePublished on July 26 2003 by Midwest Book Review
It is a curiosity of modern economic thought that some people--Brian Czech identifies them as "neoclassical" economists, led in part by the late Julian Simon--think there is no end... Read morePublished on May 18 2003 by Dennis Littrell
Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train will educate, enlighten, and even entertain you --- an accomplishment for any book, but an especially notable achievement when you consider that... Read morePublished on March 29 2003 by Tw Rutledge
"Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train" states a dire dilemma that affects us all. Not only is the problem clearly stated, but the solution comprises the second half of the book: a... Read morePublished on March 23 2003 by Shannon S. Shiflett
I'm grateful to the author for providing me with a copy of this well-written book and for penning it in such a snappy and easily comprehended style. Read morePublished on Feb. 18 2003 by Craig Chalquist, PhD, author of TERRAPSYCHOLOGY and DEEP CALIFORNIA
I am a visiting assistant professor in biology at a small liberal arts college north of Chicago. I teach an environmental biology course based on Miller's popular... Read morePublished on Jan. 3 2003 by Timothy C. Morton
The book has its moments. Including most of the first 106 pages, although there were a few "huh?'s" I had reading them. Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2002 by Amanda Peck
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